Psychopathic sexuality– a component of psychopathy?

There has been a run­ning debate over the past 18 years as to whether psy­choapthy is a “taxon”;  “an entity, type, syn­drome, dis­ease, or more gen­er­ally, a nonar­bi­trary class.” The con­cept goes back to Paul Meehl (1982; 1995) who laid out the impor­tance of the con­cept for clas­si­fy­ing psy­chopathol­ogy. Harris, Rice and Quinsey (1994) argued that psy­chopa­thy is a taxon, based on cer­tain PCL-R Factor 2 items as well as child­hood con­duct dis­or­der vari­ables (which they inco­po­rated in both the VRAG and SOARG, com­monly used vio­lence risk mea­sures). The issue of cat­e­gories vs. dimen­sions is a major issue in con­tem­po­rary per­son­al­ity the­ory and assess­ment (should per­son­al­ity traits be con­sid­ered dis­crete cat­e­gories or as dimen­sional?), includ­ing cur­rent debates on revis­ing the DSM 5, Axis 2 mod­els of per­son­al­ity dis­or­ders. Generally, evi­dence of a psy­chopa­thy taxon has been weak in the lit­er­a­ture (see Edens, et al, 2006). In their lat­est paper, Harris, Rice, et al., 2007, iden­tify a “psy­cho­pathic sex­u­al­ity taxon,” and con­clude that coer­cive and pre­co­cious sex­u­al­ity is a fun­da­men­tal aspect of psy­chopa­thy.  In response, Walters, G., and his col­leagues (2011)  pub­lished a strong response, based on tax­o­met­ric research, that psy­chopa­thy is a dimen­sional con­struct.  They argue against “reify­ing the exis­tence of dis­crete psy­chopatho­log­i­cal enti­ties when the phe­nom­e­non in ques­tion in fact has dimen­sional under­ly­ing structure.”

The whole series of paper is a fas­ci­nat­ing sur­vey of com­pet­ing mod­els in psy­chopathol­ogy, per­son­al­ity assess­ment, and psy­chopa­thy with asso­ci­ated pol­icy and pub­lic safety isses (see pre­vi­ous post on the Skeem et al (2010) psy­chopa­thy monograph).

Sources: Edens, J., Marcus, D. et al, (2006). Psychopathic, not psy­chopath: Taxometric evi­dence for the dimen­sional struc­ture of psy­chopa­thy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115, 1, 131–144.

Meehl, P. & Golden,    (1982). Taxometric meth­ods. In Butcher, J., et al. Handbook of research meth­ods in clin­i­cal psychology.

Meehl, P. (1995). Bootstrap tax­o­met­rics. Solving the clas­si­fi­ca­tion prob­lem in psy­chopathol­ogy. American Psychologist, 50(4), 266–275.

Harris, Rice, & Quinsey (1994). Psychopathy as a taxon: Evidence that psy­chopaths are a dis­crete class. JCCP, 62,2, 387–397.

Harris, G., Hilton, et al ( 2007). Coercive and pre­co­cious sex­u­al­ity as a fun­da­men­tal aspect of psy­chopa­thy. Journal of Personality Disorders, 21, 1, 1–27.

Walters, G., et al . (2011). In search of the psy­cho­pathic sex­u­al­ity taxon? Indicator size does mat­ter. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 29, 23–29.


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